Soha Fatima, Mariam Mohammad and Sana Qasim, check in attendees at the start of the Meet your Muslim Neighbors event, Jan. 28 at Timber Ridge Elementary School in Snoqualmie. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Featured story of the month: ‘Meet your Muslim neighbors’ report

The last Friday of each month, the Valley Record dedicates some space to feature a Story of the Month. This is supposed to be the one story that we ran earlier in the month to the greatest response from readers, either in letters to the editor, or website comments, Facebook posts, or conversations — including those overheard in the coffee shops. And because this is entirely unscientific, our own staff opinions about which stories will have a lasting impact on the community are considered as well.

So now you’re probably having the same reaction I did: Wondering what kind of powerhouse story could be that impactful that we’d devote more of our precious space to a repeat of it. On top of that, you might be wondering if it’s even possible to come up with one of those each month.

In February, we had three, all by our reporter, Evan Pappas. The first, and by rights the foremost of them, was his feature on Jennifer Morin’s experience in losing 95 pounds and being chosen to shoot a Weight Watchers commercial with Oprah Winfrey. We decided to eliminate this one as a candidate because it was kind of a cheat — unscientific, remember? This was an outlier; we don’t have stories involving national celebrities every week.

The other two were the initial report on Snoqualmie Valley Hospital’s initial attempts to seek out a new partnership with another, larger health care entity, and the Snoqualmie Mosque’s second annual community outreach event.

A merger or hospital partnership could have broad implications for the Upper Valley, no matter how early in the early stages the hospital board is in its search. The hospital’s proposed sale to Overlake Hospital in the summer of 2014 — which both parties walked away from by November of that year — drew a large and vocal response from community members, both for and against it. The small hospital, along with its clinics is one of the community’s largest employers, yet we often hear from people who still don’t know there is a hospital closer to us than Issaquah.

Ultimately, though, the Snoqualmie Mosque’s continued efforts to work within, and for, the community put that story in this featured spot.

The organization, of about 50 families from several different countries, does what any other church congregation does, help the needy, minister to those with questions, support the community however and whenever they can, and, until about three years ago, working where they preferred to be, almost entirely behind the scenes.

That was before a series of terrorist attacks in Europe put the Islamic faith, and its followers in a prejudiced spotlight, creating fear, anger and sometimes violence against American Muslims who had done nothing but go to a different church from the ones that their neighbors attend.

The Snoqualmie Mosque, and many others across the country, responded with openness, and information. They decided to host an open house to show their community that we all shared the same values and respect for life, and that love will win.

So why is the report on the Meet Your Muslim Neighbors event our featured story of the month?

Because it’s about a community response to a national issue, and an issue we can’t avoid in the news these days.

Because of the coincidental timing of the open house, the day after the president of the U.S. declared a controversial (and now-defeated) ban on travel to the U.S. for seven Muslim-majority countries.

Because hating and fearing any particular group becomes infinitely more difficult when you come face to face with individuals from that group.

And because, to borrow a phrase from Snoqualmie Mosque board member Usama Baioumy, ignorance creates hatred, hatred creates violence and violence creates more hatred.

Here is just one of the scenes that stood out from this report:

While many people who asked questions denounced the actions of the current administration, another man, overcome with emotion, said he was glad he came out to the event, despite his political beliefs.

“I voted for Trump and I love everybody in this room and I am so sick and tired of all the fighting,” he said, holding back tears. “For me it was a stretch to come here today, because of preconceived notions and what-have-you, and the fact is that I just hope, we can put all this political (stuff) aside and figure out how would we move forward with America and how do we… love each other rather than all of this fighting because it makes me so sad.”

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